Vancouver, SF and LA by Train – what I spent in eleven days.

The Coast Startlight - one of Amtrak's special routes.

The Coast Starlight, one of Amtrak’s special routes – $159.

There’s nothing wrong with cobbling a trip together.

I do it all the time. I plan around what I want to do and what I can afford. Just because a place or thing to do is not high on my list does not mean that it won’t turn out to be great. In my experience, it often does.

So my trip from Vancouver to LA with a major stop in San Francisco was cobbled together.

It came about because I wanted to go to a conference in San Francisco. Ah, if I’m going to be on the west coast, why not stop in to see relatives in Vancouver. Hmm. How to cover the distance between the cities? Well I love the train. Oh yes, there’s a major train route I haven’t yet taken… You know how a trip can grow.

Cobbled made the trip multi-faceted.

  • I visited family in Vancouver for four days.
  • I toured San Francisco for three of days and then attended a conference for two days.
  • I went to LA simply because I wanted travel the full length of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. I spent one night there and took the red-eye home to Toronto.

The result, at times it was expensive and other times less so. I’ll give the details and then the total cost at the end.

I started out in Vancouver - Totem Poles in Stanley Park.

I started out in Vancouver. A walk around the seawall in Stanley Park and view of these Totem Poles – free and priceless.

The big ticket travel items.

Transportation and accommodation are always the most expensive aspects of any trip. Here’s how I worked it:

  • Flights – I had Aeroplan points which I decided to use for this trip. I used 25,000 points plus $130 (for fees and taxes) to fly to Vancouver and home from Los Angeles. My total flight cost was $130.00
  • Train – Amtrak is an amazing deal when you book in advance. The Coast Startlight’s official run is from Seattle to LA however they bus people from Vancouver to pick up the trip there. My total train fare (coach) was $159.
  • Accommodation
    • Four nights in Vancouver – free thanks to my relatives.
    • One overnight on the train – free.
    • Five nights at the HI San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel at Fort Mason with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is a 15-minute walk to Fisherman’s Wharf where the conference I was attending took place. – $248.43.
    • One night at the Inn at Venice Beach – $24.82 thanks to one room-night credit from
Coffee and bread pudding at Tartine

Coffee and bread pudding at Tartine in San Francisco. I know, it’s an unhealthy meal but it was late in the day and I couldn’t resist so it was my dinner. – $10.88

Trains, planes and food trucks – the cost of eating when traveling

There were a couple of good restaurants, some food trucks, airplane/train food (the food on the train was quite good – on the place, not so much) and grocery store purchases. I have no standard go-to solution when it comes to eating. Not to get into too much detail, here’s how I spent on food.

  • 3 meals at good restaurants including tips – one was a light meal at a bistro – $108.00.
  • 4 meals on the planes (not included on the flight?), trains and airports – $61.52.
  • 2 meals at food trucks – $32.50.
  • 3 meals from grocery stores and specialty food stores – $42.12.
  • Light fare at coffee shops – $64.81.
  • Breakfasts at the hostel – free.
  • Meals at my relatives – free.
  • Meals at the conference – free.
I rented a bike in San Francisco. What was I thinking??? Ah, it was good as long as I didn't go too deep into the city.

I rented a bike in San Francisco. What was I thinking??? Ah, it was good as long as I didn’t go too deep into the city.

Getting around – the cost of transit and taxis in Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

LA is the main reason that I separate this out from other expenses but there are getting-around expenses in every city. The main challenge is getting to and from airports inexpensively.

  • Vancouver airport into town by transit – $9.00. (It’s less expensive to return to the airport due to a tax structure.)
  • Public transit in Vancouver. The cost is $2.75 per one zone trip – $8.25.
  • Taxi to train station for early morning of departure for Coast Starlight trip – $18.00 with tip.
  • Public transit in San Francisco. There is a visitor pass for $15 a day or $29/week however I’m a big walker and didn’t need these. I paid $2 each time I got on a bus – $16.
  • Taxi in LA from train station to my hotel in Marina del Rey. I arrived at night (something that I don’t recommend doing but I didn’t have an option due to the train schedule) so I took a taxi – $70 with tip.
  • Public transit from Marina del Rey to the LA airport – $1.50 (what a deal!).
The fountain in front of the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco.

The fountain in front of the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco.

The Price of Entertainment

There are trips where going out in the evening is great and trips when it is really not important at all. This trip was the latter. I spent Vancouver enjoying family. Half my days in San Francisco were at the conference and half were spent enjoying the city.  My one day in Marina del Rey (Venice Beach) I spent at the beach people watching. So I didn’t spend much on entertainment.

  • Bike rental – I rented a bike for a day, rode across the Golden Gate Bridge and took a ferry back – $33
  • de Young Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco – I spent the good part of a day there viewing the Bouquets to Art exhibit and the “Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George” exhibit – $24 (normal price $26 because of the special O’Keeffe exhibit but I saved $2 for having taken MUNI public transit.).
The Coast Starlight train runs along the beach for almost an hour as it approaches LA. This is the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean.

The Coast Starlight train runs along the beach for almost an hour as it approaches LA. This is the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean.

And the Vancouver to Los Angeles with a long stop in San Francisco trip cost…

The actual cost, all in, for this eleven-day trip was $1052.95 thanks to:

  • Using points for my flights
  • Staying with family for the first four days
  • Booking my train early and traveling coach. This trip has one overnight between Seattle and San Francisco. Not the most comfortable choice but certainly an affordable one.
  • Staying in a hostel.
  • Using transit as much as made sense.
  • Going to just a few restaurants.

It should be noted that my conference pass, which included lunches, was $350.

I wrote this post because people seemed to appreciate my post on London and Paris – what I spent in 14 days.

  • Vanessa Lowe

    When travelling from the Vancouver airport by transit you don’t pay the special levy if you use transit bus tickets (Faresavers).

  • Beachbound

    I hate the fact they don’t require the same level of criminal checks or exclusions, they carry minimum insurance, and don’t have the same legal protection as traditional liveries. Also, try to get a last minute ride. Doesn’t happen.

  • Christine

    Fantastic post. Thanks I read not long ago that the States was not a good place for raíl travel. I was really disappointed as it’ s the first trip I plan to do when I retire and was counting on doing a lot of it by train. This has encouraged me to rethink!

  • David C. Maness

    No way. They have a lot of bad press about drivers assaulting passengers. Just today, there is reporting that their background checks do not catch criminals.

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  • lesleyjoecats .

    Thanks for the article. I’m new to Solo Traveler, not to traveling solo, however. My favorite trips are road trips, sleeping in my mini van when I am tired. Thinking of taking my 3rd trek across the U.S. soon. I’ve driven two 10,000 mile trips, but this time it will be solo. I am interested in hearing about folks who like to road trip solo. I seldom feel cozy in unfamiliar rooms, so having my little van is best for me. Keeps things very flexible, but also means that overseas travel doesn’t have the same lure as North America for me. The scenery I pass IS the trip…destinations along the way are the desserts. And like you I put in lots of those mini destinations.

  • Robert Bruce

    I traveled Amtrack up the California coast once for a conference in San Fran as well. It was a few years back. A friend of mine came along and we bought a sleeper cabin with room service. With the ability to walk up to the dining car and the observation car, being able to go back and take a short nap was very refreshing. There was a deal going on at the time, I think they have them from time to time. I love the train. Robert Bruce –

  • Robert Bruce

    How much of your trips are planned in advance and how are they an exercise of winging it? Also, what sort of emergency plans do you have on these trips?

  • Lois Middleton

    Great post! I’ve stayed at that same hostel in San Francisco a couple of times – both times were great experiences, comfortable beds, relatively quiet, pleasant location, and I loved the community gardens nearby where I chatted with a local gardener or two. I’d like to take more train trips (it’s been many years) and your details help with the planning. Thanks!

  • leelaurino

    Barbara, have been working for a long time to find a way to go RTW (that i can afford) by ship, train, ferry or if necessary a plane,
    have the maps out, the routes planned and an italian contact sent me a link (if i can find it) for ferries all over the world…… may make a good adventure

  • leelaurino

    did this hostel offer private rooms?

  • Janice Waugh

    That will be an amazing trip. Have fun!

  • leelaurino

    that is a great idea for a trip! i have thought of driving across the usa but the train would be great….the next time you consider going to Europe, consider going in fall or early spring and take a trans atlantic ship crossing….they have prices that are OFTEN less than prem economy on a flight! the first week of may there were crossings from 399 to 599 (low range)

  • Barbara

    I’m doing both.

  • Barbara

    I’m working on a trip that will include the Coast Starlight, parts of which I’ve done before. I live in Asheville, NC and will fly from here to Chicago, take the Empire Builder to Seattle/Vancouver, the Coast Starlight to Oakland, pause to visit friends, then take the California Zepher to Chicago and fly home. I’m having a knee jerk reaction of the cost of overseas flights, so this will be substitute for Europe.

  • Trisha Andrus

    Thanks Janice! I’ll definitely keep it in mind-made note of it in my book.

  • Janice Waugh

    My first room was on the main floor and it was fine except that I had an upper bunk which I don’t like. I then moved downstairs and I found it noisy. With this hostel you can book a specific bed so I would do that. Book an upper or lower, whatever your preference, on the main floor and specify that you want it away from the noise if that’s what you want. Otherwise I really liked the hostel. Great kitchen. Nice little theater in basement. Patio walkout in back. Central. Park with view of bridge. Very friendly and helpful… yes, lots to like about it.

  • Trisha Andrus

    How was the Hostel? I am thinking (I know….it’s pretty far ahead) about going to San Francisco in July or September of next year. With my work schedule, and company set vacation times, I can only go at certain times and I LUV to research possible places to go. I didn’t have much chance to travel when I was younger and am planning on making up for that in the coming years! Paris first-this year!

  • abid

    good work thanks

  • leelaurino

    thanks for that insight. I also read about SQM on another bloggers site but awaiting her post on her first time working with them….. since they will never find me, shall have to research them. thanks….planning a year in advance will save lots of travel money, but my life is not as well organized…

  • Janice Waugh

    At the beginning of the year I usually know most of my trips but I also leave room for spontaneity. For example, I have some time in the fall and I’m hoping for a great deal from for flights to South America. I’ve mentioned SQM before – they are a secret shopper network that covers a couple of Canadian airlines.

  • Michelle Panting

    Thanks for breaking everything down so thoroughly. I really need to start collecting those points!

  • leelaurino

    i see posts from non stop travelers telling how little they spend per day etc….but i am forced to travel on a budget and the goal is to go as long and often as the yearly budget affords.
    question: do you plan your entire year of travel in advance? or do you take the trips you want as they become available???

  • Gary Smith

    Thanks for the report and the details of your expenses. If everyone did this (including me!) we would have a much better idea of what to expect. Keep up the good work.

  • Cindy Van Vreede

    Have you thought of joining Uber? For those not in the know, Uber is an internet taxi service. You sign up online and through an app for your smart phone, you can get a ride to anywhere Uber is. Your credit card is on file with Uber, so no money exchanges hands with the driver. All the drivers are all registered with Uber. When you join Uber, your first 5 rides are free. Lyft is the other internet car service and works pretty much the same way. Uber and Lyft are active in most major US cities and a number of foreign cities as well. Something to check out, especially when you have to take a taxi late at night.